(PhatzRadio / USA Today) — IRVING, Texas — After a nearly two-hour meeting Friday night, NFL officials were poised to vote on an eight-year agreement that would put them back to work.
The new contract, which will be voted on Saturday morning, must be ratified by 51 percent of the union’s 121 members.After Friday’s meeting at a Dallas-area hotel, Tim Millis, the Executive Director of the NFL Referees Association, told USA TODAY Sports that the tenor of the meeting to discuss and answer questions about the new collective bargaining agreement was “very good.”
“They are very enthused to know that they have the possibility if they agree and vote that they will be back on the field,” Millis added. “That’s what they want. That’s why we always said we were available to negotiate. They want to work on the field. That is what they do.”
The performance of replacement officials the past three weeks enraged fans, players and coaches and, according to many, incorrectly determined the outcome of one game — the Seattle Seahawks’ victory over the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.
After an agreement was reached late Wednesday night, one crew returned to work Thursday night and was greeted with a standing ovation when the officials walked onto the field before the game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns.
Referees applauded by fans or coaches? If this is a honeymoon period for the “real” referees, how long will it last?
“Until a short while after the kickoff,” Millis said half jokingly. “We have a good relationship with [the coaches], even during the game. I was on the field 13 years with them and was on the sideline and never had anything. You can count on one hand how many really, really animated situations [occurred] … They kind of expect us to be the best there is.”
Throughout the day Friday, officials filed into the Dallas-area hotel lobby, greeting one another with high-fives or hugs. It was a festive atmosphere, as if it was a gathering for a long-awaited high school reunion. There was no tension in the air before their 7:30 p.m. meeting.
For most of the frustrated public, the tipping point arrived Monday night with the infamous “Fail Mary” call in Seattle.
Millis said that his personal reaction to the last play of that game was that “it was a big-time game-changer … Last play of the ball game, no penalties on the play called when there certainly looked like there should have been. You knew right away there was going to be problems with this one.”
Was it also a game-changer in negotiations? When asked if the controversy Monday night accelerated the negotiations with the NFL, Millis said: “You’d have to ask the league. The league kind of indicated that. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them.”
One of the key elements in the CBA is the pension plan. Before negotiations resumed this week, the league wanted to keep the pension plan for officials for two years before moving to a 401(k) plan. When the agreement was reached Wednesday, the pension plan was to be in place for five years.
Millis said one of the biggest concessions was the one officials made on the pension, “where we have made some big steps toward, down the road, a delayed freeze where we give up a defined benefit at some point in time versus a defined contribution. The biggest advantage in that is, with a defined benefit, the league is responsible for the volatile market, whereas with the defined contribution you are.”
Millis said officials have studied and remained in shape during the lockout. He said several officials have been conducting classes, sending out tests and films to analyze. Conference calls were held involving a “very large number of officials,” Millis said.
Many officials planned to fly directly from Dallas after Saturday’s vote to their assigned cities for Sunday’s games. For them, it appears almost time to go back to work.